Don’t Get Swept Away: Floods and Car Insurance

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This post comes from Michele Lerner at partner site Insurance.com.

July is known for being a peak summer month filled with sunny days, but this year it also turned out to be a notorious month for flash floods across the country.

  • On July 3, a flash flood in Lebanon, N.H., forced evacuations and caused an estimated $6.5 million in damage, according to The Associated Press.
  • On July 10 in South Pittsburg, Tenn., floodwaters from relentless rain spawned a newborn river that swept through neighborhoods, shops and City Hall, according to a Times Free Press report. The rapids, which came without warning, “hit with the force of an earthquake, tossing cars, killing wildlife and lifting sheets of asphalt the size of trucks,” the report said.
  • By July 26, western North Carolina had suffered through four flash floods in the past four months, the last one being the most severe in decades, according to the Charlotte Observer.
  • On July 29 in Arizona, things were no better for the 33 passengers on a tour bus outside of Flagstaff as flash flood waters swept the bus hundreds of yards until it flipped on its side on an embankment, according to the AP. Fortunately, passengers escaped with no injuries.

Drivers are advised to avoid driving during a flood if at all possible for a very good reason: According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, nearly half of all deaths during a flood are vehicle-related.

When asked for tips for driving in a flood, Carroll Lachnit, features editor for automotive research site Edmunds.com, says, “Don’t do it.”

Driving tips for flash floods

While the best advice is to stay off the roads, sometimes drivers get caught in an unexpected flood.

“The classic ‘turn around, don’t drown’ statement that gets repeated during every major storm is excellent advice,” says Lachnit. “Never drive through flooded areas. If it’s raining heavily and you’re driving in a familiar location where you know there are vulnerable areas, then you need to avoid them.”

Lachnit says you should never drive beneath an underpass during a heavy rainstorm because they are prone to flooding.

Another tip for driving when flooding begins is to be wary of water levels. “According to FEMA it takes only 1 foot of water to float almost any car,” she says. “Even an SUV can be swept off a bridge (or down a road) in a foot of water. Six inches of water reaches the bottom of most cars, which means you could lose control of your car or wash out into the flood.”

If you’re on the road and see signs of high water or stranded vehicles, Lachnit says, you should pull over or take a different route. If you see water rising above the bottom of the tires of the car in front of you, that’s an indication to turn around. You can sometimes guess how deep the water is compared with the curb, but you may not know about flood damage to the roadbed underneath.

If your car gets caught in a flash flood and stalls or you lose control, FEMA recommends that you get out if you can before it gets carried downstream.

If it’s too late to climb out and your car is beginning to be submerged, Lachnit says, it’s important not to panic.”Once your car is submerged you should be able to open your doors, so you’re supposed to hold your breath and climb out,” she says. “If you’re caught in a stream of rushing water, point your feet up and downstream so you flow with the water to avoid getting hurt on rocks under the surface.”

In addition to the danger of floodwaters, heavy rainstorms create major visibility problems.

When driving in heavy rain, slow down, put extra space between your car and the car in front of you, and don’t slam on your brakes or make any sudden turns, says Lachnit.

“If you have anti-lock brakes like most cars, don’t pump the brakes,” she says.

Car insurance coverage and floods

All of these tips are meant to prevent an accident or a water-damaged car, but sometimes an event that results in an insurance claim is inevitable. It’s important to have the right car insurance so that you don’t end up financially swept away.

“If you don’t have comprehensive and collision coverage on your car insurance policy, you need to get it before hurricane or flood warnings are given for your area,” says Penny Gusner, a consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com. “Insurance companies can’t add new coverage or write a new insurance policy when a storm warning has been issued.”

Here’s the insurance coverage you could need if you’re caught in a flood:

Comprehensive. “Comprehensive insurance covers any type of damage to your car up to its actual cash value that’s caused by natural events instead of an accident,” says Gusner. “So if your car is damaged by rising water or a flood, you could make a claim with your comprehensive coverage.”

Collision. If you hydroplane during a storm and flip your car or hit something like another car or a tree, collision insurance will pay to repair it or will pay the actual cash value of the car. Gusner says you’ll have to pay your deductible regardless of whether the accident was your fault, someone else’s or caused by the storm.

Rental car reimbursement. “Rental reimbursement coverage is optional and pays you a certain amount of money per day or per week for a rental car to drive while your car is being repaired,” says Gusner. “If you have another car or another way of getting around without your car, then you don’t need it.”

Gap. “If you owe more money on your car than it’s worth, gap insurance will pay the difference,” says Gusner. “For instance, if you owe $15,000 on your car loan but your car is only worth $12,000, gap insurance will reimburse your lender for the extra $3,000.” You can get gap insurance from your regular car insurance provider or from your car financing company, but it’s usually more expensive from your lender.

“Your insurance company expects you to take care of your car, so make sure you don’t cause more damage by driving it after a flood with the check engine light on,” says Gusner.

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